The old record label system isn’t stupid. It’s surviving only on artificial scarcity at this point, but it isn’t stupid. Never forget that.

They’ve been working with Google/YouTube over their new music streaming service. It’s a big change, and there’s a lot going on – and it was negotiated with the Big Four labels on their terms. That’s never good. ZoĆ« Keating‘s post is going around, and is well worth reading. SJ Tucker – in our release show on Sunday – is looking for ideas. Hell, so am I.

But for now, what you need to know is that Google is telling indie musicians that they have one of two options:

  1. Take their new deal, which includes things like “ads always on every video,” “YouTube is a required point of first release” (not exclusive first release, but no more crowdfunding rewards going out first), “complete catalogue required,” “five year contract,” and so on, or
  2. Have your channel blocked and all your music deleted from the service.

Now, there is a caveat here: this refers to artists who participate in the ContentID programme, which gets them a share of royalties for uses of their music, as is more or less required by law. If you want to forfeit that money, then you can continue to be Some Random Youtuber, but at that point you’re just handing YouTube all that money that’s owed to you, and none of the infrastructure that’s built up around YouTube music will work for you. That’s not really a bonus.

For the record, even with all those downsides, that’s how I’m currently set up. I have been thinking of changing that, however. But to do that, I have to deal with this new ring of hell, and it’s a pretty good strike against crowdfunding and indie/self-funded artists. And against anyone who wants control over their how their work is released and to whom.

One thing I’m seeing is a lot of people commenting with variations on, “Fuck ’em! They aren’t worth your time!” Except that the last numbers I saw had YouTube at about 70% of online music plays. That data is a few years old now, but Pandora was already huge, and even with that, it was still All About YouTube.

I’m sure that number has moved around a bit. Soundcloud wasn’t as big then, for example. But I don’t imagine it’s an overwhelming shift – and there are all these newer music streaming and DJ systems which use YouTube as their infrastructure, to balance it. It’s why Google are pushing this new system: to make money off of all of that.

So yes, you absolutely can ignore 70% of the online market or whatever it is. But that’s a serious decision, and not even a little bit the “no-brainer” that people seem to think. It’s just not.

Honestly, I don’t have a good answer. There’s a suggested hack floating around in comment sections – starting a little company that is separate to but controlled by the artist, having that company sign up for the service, and only leasing some of your work to that company, and then that company leases all of its music to YouTube. It’s clever. It might be legally viable. It’s certainly an extra layer of expense, trouble, and time, and having to do that kind of hack is certainly yet another barrier to entry to new musicians.

Which is, of course, exactly what the labels want.

This is Part Ten of Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment, a series of essays about, well, what it says on the tin. In the digital era, duplication is essentially free and there are no natural supply constraints which support scarcity, and therefore, prices. What the hell does a recording musician do then?